Greenwich Village at the White House
This picturesque wintry scene of Christopher Street was painted by Greenwich Village resident and artist Beulah Bettersworth in 1934. Looking west from Hudson Street along Christopher, it shows the Ninth Avenue El Christopher Street Station and St. Veronica’s Church beyond. Currently, this painting is part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. But it used to have a home in the White House. Here’s the story of how Christopher Street and Greenwich Village made it into the nation’s First Home.
In 1933, the country was mired in the Depression with one-fourth of the country’s workforce unemployed, and an equal number working reduced hours. The country’s nearly 10,000 unemployed artists were in dire straits as well. Newly inaugurated President Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered to the American public the New Deal, a series of wide-ranging programs designed to foster economic recovery.
Artists were included in this effort under the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) which had sixteen regional committees who recruited artists to execute art projects throughout the country. Between December 1933 and June 1934, the PWAP hired 3,749 artists who created 15,663 works of art including paintings, murals, sculptures, prints, drawings, and craftworks. Artists were encouraged to depict “the American Scene,” subject to their own interpretations. Today those images provide a glimpse into everyday life of Depression-Era America. PWAP art was featured in schools, libraries, museums, post offices and other government buildings. PWAP would pave the way for later New Deal art programs including the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project.
In April of 1934, over 500 works of art created under the PWAP program were displayed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. President Roosevelt, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and other government officials attended the exhibition. The Roosevelts selected 32 of the paintings featured in the exhibition for display at the White House, including the one of Christopher Street by Beulah Bettersworth.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1894, Beulah Bettersworth studied at the Art Students League in New York and her teachers included John Sloan and George Bellows. She was married to illustrator Howard Bettersworth, and in the early 1930’s they lived at 95 Christopher Street. Following the selection of her painting of Christopher Street for the White House, Beulah was selected to complete two murals for the WPA Section of Painting and Sculpture, one for a post office in Indianola, Mississippi and one for a post office in Columbus, Mississippi.
Looking at a photo from the time, we can see how accurate Beulah’s painting was of this part of the Village.